The rainfall of biblical proportions forecast for Cheltenham today, the second day of the Open Meeting has not materialised and although the ground has eased a little, those trainers hoping for a mudbath will be disappointed.
Centrepiece of today’s action is at 2.25 when the BetVictor Gold Cup Handicap Chase is run, with 19 horses competing for a first prize of some £91,000 over 2m41/2f.
Favourite for the race is the Jonjo O’Neill trained More Of That, not seen since bursting a blood vessel in the RSA Chase at the Festival last March. This 8-y-o achieved a hurdle rating of 167 when beating no less a horse than Annie Power to win the World Hurdle in 2014 and competes in its first handicap over fences off a mark of 154, so there are many experts salivating about a runner that is ‘thrown in’. Rightly or wrongly (and we’ll know at around 2.35) this writer is not one of them.
For a horse that has seen a racecourse just 3 times in nearly 3 years, this surely is the worst value for some time and, added to that, is the current form of the yard. The last 52 runners sent out by J-J have all, repeat all, been beaten and although there is optimism galore emanating from the yard, I would need to see a price well into double figures before taking a chance on it – and that ain’t gonna happen.
Mr O’Neill also has the 3rd favourite for the race in Taquin Du Seuil, which at least has had the benefit of a tune-up spin over hurdles, finishing quite nicely into 6th. However, this would be a lifetime’s best performance off a rating of 156 and, of course, the same reservations concerning the yard’s form subsist.
In a race of this complexity, I’m going to go three against the field:
As De Mee to start with. Paul Nicholls, breathing op, unchanged mark from last win, ideal trip, fit as a flea – trouble is, seems to be being backed off the boards, so hurry for the 8-1.
Then there is dear old Buywise. Not actually so old (9), just seems to have been around forever. 5th and 2nd in the last two runnings of this race, ran really well in prep hurdle at Aintree and here’s to third time lucky at 16-1.
Finally, the best handicapped horse in the race, also 16-1.
Aso, trained by the ever fragrant Venetia, has not yet reached its full potential over fences, a comment which does not apply to most of these. A comfortable winner when last seen in April, Aso has been laid out for this and the trainer’s prayers for rain have been answered. Both horse and jockey are improving, as the admirable Charlie Deutsch has been booked, thus reducing Aso’s burden even more and, off 10st 8, hopefully the horse won’t know it’s had a race.
Apart from recommending a maximum each way bet on Thistlecrack, that’s all, folks.